2005 Annual Lecture Series

Lecture Summaries
June 21-25

June 21
Print Journalism on the Precipice
Walter Shapiro, former political columnist, USA Today

The collapse of print journalism has been predicted since the advent of television news. It has appeared time and again in many contexts and forms. Yet for Walter Shapiro, political journalist and author of One-Car Caravan, there is still hope.

Delivering his lecture, Shapiro approached the future of print journalism with a mixed bag of optimism, cynicism and good humor.

According to Shapiro, “if there is a big message of this era, it is that print lives.” As he reminded the audience, even the Internet itself is 80-90% a print-based medium, and newspapers, he said, continue to enjoy a profit margin of 20-30%, a level that, Shapiro joked, was only seen in years past by the likes of organized crime.

Shapiro addressed the issues of declining circulation, layoffs, and decreasing profits that are commonly identified as the downfall of print media. However, it was his commentary on blogs that gave light to his greatest fear for the future of print journalism. Describing blogs as “parasitic institutions,” Shapiro pointed out that the blogs are commenting on the news rather than supplying it. In fact, many bloggers have sought out obscure information to discredit news outlets.

If this trend continues, Shapiro foresees an age where instead of many local news outlets; there will be only a handful of news sources. And to complement these outlets, there will be 10 million people logging commentary into personal blogs.

Shapiro also addressed recent concerns surrounding the use of anonymous sources as well as the increasing brevity of news stories. He also stressed the critical importance of identifying political “spin” for what it is. And urged journalists to seek the truth behind the prepared statements of government officials regardless of political affiliation.

However, far from leaving the audience depressed about the future of print journalism, Shapiro ended his lecture with something he called “take aways.” These parting thoughts were meant to leave the audience empowered by a subject that has long been immersed in doom and gloom.

Shapiro reminded journalists in the audience that the power in the newsroom lies not with the editors but with the reporters. It is up to them to question the methods, topics, and editors at publications. Shapiro further noted that those in the media today know that their business is changing. It is up to the reporters to direct this change in a positive direction. Paraphrasing a quote from Gone With the Wind, he joked, “fortunes are made during the birth and destruction of empires.”

June 22
Population Growth: The Forgotten Environmental Crisis
Fred Meyerson, Ph.D., J.D., Georgetown University

When considering problems affecting the environment, few consider pregnancy and family size to be contributing factors. Yet as Fred Meyerson, an ecologist and demographer, pointed out in his lecture, human fertility has a greater impact than many realize. Global population continues to grow by more than 70 million per year.

Despite an impression by many people that the population within the United States is stable or falling and that a “birth dearth” may be looming, Meyerson points to the opposite as true. The American population has been steadily rising for decades and will continue to do so in the future. In fact, the 1990s alone saw the U.S. population increase by 33 million people, and it is projected to rise from 296 million to 420 million by 2050, as a result of rising fertility, immigration, and life expectancy.

Meyerson was also quick to point out that there is great variability in population growth both among and within developed and developing countries. One result is that it is certain that all countries will follow the trend toward low birth rates that has been documented in Europe.

In order to illuminate the connection between population increase and environmental destruction, Meyerson illustrated a case study done in Peten, Guatemala, home to the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Maps of the countryside viewed in 1950 depict a land that was virtually all tropical forest. Yet by 1985, nearly one third of the forest cover was lost, and by 1999 a mere 40 percent of the forest remained, despite the creation of the reserve and its buffer zones to protect the forest and its biodiversity. This came during a period (from 1960 to 2000) when the human population of the Peten was growing by nine percent each year.

According to Meyerson’s analysis, there is a close correlation between increasing population density and deforestation. On average, in Peten, for each person added to the population of the Peten, four to seven hectares (9 to 15 acres) of forest have been lost.

Meyerson suggests that a contributing factor to overpopulation is lack of access to family planning among women, especially among those in developing countries, and more specifically, rural areas. Meyerson, who serves on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, cited many obstacles preventing women from obtaining reproductive health services and education, including paucity of funds, bureaucratic intervention and religious fundamentalism.

Yet as Meyerson subsequently detailed, family planning is inexpensive to fund and has the potential to combat deforestation. Calculating family planning costs to be about $20-$30 per couple per year in the Peten, Meyerson estimated that it would effectively cost only $29-$51 to preserve each hectare of forest, by providing women with access to voluntary family planning.

Unwanted pregnancies are not a symptom solely of developing countries, but are also seen within developed countries like the U.S. Meyerson said that almost half the pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and half of those unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. This is as much as ten times greater than the rates experienced in many European countries.

Meyerson also touched upon the relationship between population growth and greenhouse gas emissions. According to him, per capita emissions have remained almost constant since 1970, both globally and in the United States. Therefore the 50 percent rise in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the last 35 years correlates very closely with population growth.

Drawing his lecture to a close, Meyerson addressed the way in which population growth has led to environmental issues being placed at the bottom of the political agenda. He points out that as the number of people in a country increases, housing starts and employment needs are driven up, leading to rapid construction and increases in consumption just to meet the needs of the growing population. However, this national economic growth may mask the fact that very little progress is made on an individual level (such as average wages and income, which have fallen recently in America). Moreover, amid the social and political pressures associated with this rapid growth, environmental protection may unfortunately be left aside.

June 23
Some Say By Fire: Climate Change and the American Response
James Gustave Speth, Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Despite a common misconception, climate change is not a recent concern, but first gained the attention of American scientists during the Carter Administration 25 years ago. Yet even with an outpouring of scientific analysis and forecasting, averting climate change is no longer an option, said Gustave Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in his lecture.

However, we can still prevent the worst from occurring, Speth said. The United States is the largest contributor of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, Speth said, and in fact, if each of the states within the U.S. were considered to be a country, 35 of the states would be top greenhouse gas producers.

There have been a number of recent legislative developments, including the Kyoto Protocol, Speth said, and in the U.S., 150 cities have adopted Kyoto standards, despite the refusal of the U.S. to sign the treaty. At the state level, Speth notes that California recently declared that it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Although Speth said he was encouraged by these recent developments, he noted that they were late in coming and still in the preliminary stages.

The business world was a bright spot in Speth’s assessment of current state of climate change. Foreign countries doing business with U.S. companies have begun pressuring them to improve their environmental records. Additionally, groups such as CERES have organized investors to pressure companies to make changes in their practices and alleviate their part in the climate change problem. Insurance and reinsurance companies are also influencing businesses to change their practices. Speth cited a recent announcement by General Electric that it would significantly lower its greenhouse gas emissions, as an example of companies viewing such changes as a source of future revenue.

In recent decades, there has been an increasing gap between the public and scientists, says Speth. In fact, he notes that as the scientific content of the news has risen, it would appear that the comprehension of the American public has decreased, leaving many ill-informed. Speth referred to a recent Gallup poll that found public concern about climate change decreased between 2003 and 2004. According to Speth, if we want the public to listen to what scientists have to say, we must approach them differently, we must “appeal to their hearts as well as their heads.” He suggested that a public education campaign would be one way to accomplish this.

There is also an increasing need for journalists to bridge the gap between scientists and the public, Speth said. Although a tremendous amount of scientific data exists in scientific journals, very little has made it into the daily news, accessible to the public.

Appealing to the audience, Speth suggested that a popular movement of citizens is needed. He called for people to take action by demanding accountability, protesting, and becoming responsible consumers. He also called on religious and environmental organizations to increase their involvement in the climate change issue.

Speth’s closing sentiments resonated with the powerful words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Here is your country. Do not let anyone take it or its glory away from you. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches, or its romance. The world, the future, and your children shall judge you accordingly as you deal with this sacred trust.”

June 24
The Market-Based Approach to Environment
John Fialka, Energy and Environment Reporter, Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau

In his lecture, John Fialka, the energy and environment reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was engaging and informative, involving the audience in his explanation of complexities of environmental economics.

Standing before his audience, Fialka held two pieces of paper and asked if the paper had any value. Fialka scribbled on one piece of paper, handing it to an audience member, and asked again if the paper had value. This time the answer was yes — now it was an IOU for $1.

Fialka scribbled on the second piece of paper, which read, “This allows you to emit one ton of pollution.” As the audience laughed, Fialka explained the significance of what they had just witnessed — he had just created something out of nothing, a negotiable instrument, he said.

The purpose of the second piece of paper was to demonstrate the way in which the environment is assigned a monetary value. This concept of “monetizing” the environment, Fialka said, began in the late 1980s under the Reagan Administration. Searching for a way to alleviate the U.S. problem of acid rain, President Reagan assigned George Bush, Sr., the task of finding a solution. The result was a conversation between Boyden Grey and Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Environmental Defense had just completed a successful test run of what they called “cap and trade” in Poland. This concept assigned a monetary value to the emissions of power plants, by capping the emissions levels at the release rate of the previous year.

Power plants were subsequently handed certificates, not that unlike the slip of paper Fialka held up earlier, that entitled them to emit a certain number of units of pollution. Fewer certificates, he said, were handed out each of the following years. The plants were left with no choice but to install environmentally sound cleaners within their plants, or to buy certificates from those plants that emitted less than their certificates allowed. The one-time “pieces of paper” now had a monetary value, he explained.

The concept of “cap and trade” was applied within the U.S. to alleviate the acid rain problem. According to Fialka, within four years they had cut the emissions of SO2 by 30 percent, a rate that had never been accomplished before. George Bush Sr. would bring this same idea to the creation of the Kyoto Protocol. Although wary at first, the Kyoto nations soon adopted the idea of “cap and trade.” According to Fialka, years later, after George W. Bush had rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the Europeans had adopted the idea enthusiastically as their own.

Japan, a forerunner in energy efficiency, has found the trading of certificates to be rewarding. According to Fialka, Japan has begun cleaning up power plants in developing countries in exchange of credits. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries can become beneficiaries of cleaner sources of energy and utilities, while developed countries receive certificates for cleaning the air. Not only that, the World Bank has begun working with businesses to help identify sources of emissions and alleviate the problems. According to Fialka, the fee for this service is a requisite contribution to the World Bank fund.

Today, the ideas behind “cap and trade” are being applied to mercury in the U.S. Additionally, renewable energy credits (RECs) are being instituted, Fialka said. These certificates reward a business for each unit of renewable energy produced. Fialka referred to the proposed Nantucket Wind farm as one example of a business that would benefit from RECs. Closing his lecture with the same energy with which he began, Fialka proclaimed that the monetization of the environment “really revolutionized what we think of as environmental behavior in this country.”

June 25
People and Fish: The Environmental Cost of Consumption
Ellen K. Pikitch, Executive Director, Pew Institute of Ocean Science, and Professor, University of Miami Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

People around the world have been fishing for thousands of years. Yet as Ellen Pikitch, executive director and founder of the Pew Institute of Ocean Science, pointed out in her lecture, a lot has changed in the world’s fisheries, and most of it has occurred in the last 100 years.

Pikitch began by showing the audience a graphic depicting locale and density of fish catch in the world as it was in 1900. Colors representing fish populations sprawled across a map of the globe. Some of the highest densities appeared in red along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. The next image was greeted with gasps as the audience realized that the image before them was the state of the fisheries in 2000, and that the large quantities of fish along the Atlantic Coast had disappeared.

According to Pikitch, the industrial fishing age began in the 1950s. It was then that new technologies were developed to obtain a larger catch with less effort. Better technologies led to a higher yield, and over time depleted many fish populations.

For example, Pikitch said, the Atlantic cod fishery was fished at a sustainable rate for 400 years. With the advent of industrial fishing fleets, the yearly catch reached nearly 800,000 tons, four times the sustainable rate of the previous four centuries, she said. Pikitch explained that the cod populations could not be sustained at such a level and as a result, their stocks collapsed in the 1990s. According to Pikitch, in 1992 a moratorium on the fishing of Atlantic cod was imposed. More than ten years later, there has been little recovery in those stocks.

Overfishing is not only detrimental to the fish being taken, but also to those species taken accidentally along with them, said Pikitch. For instance, Pikitch talked about the North Atlantic White Marlin, which is commonly caught as bycatch with cod and swordfish. It is estimated that there had been a 94 percent decrease in biomass by 2000 due to this incidental catch, she said, eight times the mortality rate at which fish stocks could be sustainably caught.

Industrial fishing has caused a number of adverse effects on fish stocks. According to Pikitch, there has been a 90 percent decline in the number and type of wild fish. Not only that, fish are now half the size they once were. Much of the reason that the fishing industry has been able to maintain such high yields in recent years, despite dwindling stocks, is due to the fact that they change locale and species at a rapid rate, Pikitch said. Accordingly, as the larger fish are depleted, smaller fish began to be pursued, a process she called fishing down the food web.

Pikitch says that in 2003 alone there were 113 documented marine extinctions, although this may be an underestimate due to a lag time in documentation. This comes at a time, when, according to Pikitch, 29 percent of the world, and 37 percent of the U.S. fish populations are being overfished.

Climate change was also on Pikitch’s agenda as she touched upon the possible effects overfishing may have on greenhouse gases. According to Pikitch, they have found that in Namibia, where there have recently been toxic gas eruptions in the seas, sardines may play a key role in preventing the release of gases into the atmosphere. She noted that sardines consume phytoplankton, which without a predator to consume it, would eventually die and fall to the sea floor. Forming a decomposing mat on the ocean floor, the phytoplankton release gases that are brought to the ocean’s surface by upwelling.